Fists of Freedom

5 June marks the birthday of John Carlos (seen in the above photo on the right), who holds numerous titles for records set in track but is likely best remembered for his participation in an event at the XIX Olympiad in Mexico City in 1968.

Carlos was born and raised in Harlem, NY and would attend East State Texas University on a track and field scholarship. After his first year, Carlos enrolled at San Jose State University.

At the Olympics in Mexico City, John Carlos and his teammate Tommie Smith placed third and first respectively, in the 200 Meters event. After reaching the medal stand they raised their fists in what some termed a “Black Power Salute” and others termed a “human rights gesture”. Either way it became one of the enduring images of the 1960’s. The reaction of the sporting press was swift and terrible. Brent Mussberger said the duo looked like “black-skinned storm troopers” and called the gesture “juvenile” and lambasted the pair for “airing the dirty laundry” of the nation that was picking up the room and board for them in Mexico City. International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village.

The image of the fist raising has been reproduced many times in many different venues and mediums. Including murals in West Oakland, California and Sydney Australia. On the grounds of San Jose State University there is a statue of Smith and Carlos in the famous pose, with the other spot left open for visitors to stand in the place where Silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia stood.

In 2003, Carlos was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame. In 2008, John Carlos, along with Tommie Smith, would be given the ‘Arthur Ashe Courage Award’ by the ESPN network.